What is my Business?
I wrote recently about not getting involved in matters that aren’t my business. Arguments online, political disagreements, etc. I mentioned the AA aphorism, “We have ceased fighting anyone and anything.” Many of us use it as a guideline for how to behave in the world. How to find peace and serenity in our lives. And for all the visible effort that AA puts in to abstinence from alcohol, the real purpose of the fellowship is the serenity of its members. Drinking is not our disease. Drinking is how we try to treat our disease.
I think this is why so many interventions, medical or otherwise, fail with alcoholics. As long as we focus on the alcohol, we’re doomed. Medicines that reduce cravings, attempts to learn to moderate, these things keep us in a battle. We cannot defeat alcohol by battling it. The key to recovery is not in winning a struggle. It is in abandoning it. Alcoholics are selves in constant conflict, predicament. We set ourselves into pitched battles on any number of subjects, and then we attempt to quell the disquiet in our minds with anesthetic liquors. It is by abandoning this dynamic that we can come to recovery.
But. AA is not a pacifist organization. AA was about 6 years old when World War II came about. I’ve read anecdotes and histories in which there was a great deal of concern as to how recovered alcoholics would acquit themselves at war. By all accounts, AA members performed in war the same as “normal” soldiers. And I have read nothing suggesting that combat experience led to relapse. So, when we say that we do not fight anyone or anything, clearly we don’t include opposing belligerents in wartime.
And AA members are not, individually, required to shrink from conflict or serve as doormats. The literature states explicitly that we do not need to grovel before anyone. When we make amends, we do so earnestly and honestly, and do not expect forgiveness. We pay what we owe, and not more. If a person does not accept our amends, or demands more than we are responsible for, we do not have to accept it. But we also don’t fight with them. A person who is determined to extract humiliation along with amends is not accepting an amends at all. We don’t have to participate in their game.
This is a long way around to wondering what it is that is my business. Because claiming “Sorry, that’s not my job,” is not a way of taking responsibility for my environment and my community. How can I decide what things are simply arguments I shouldn’t take part in, and what things are crucial issues, even if controversial, where I have a duty to stand for the right side? Saying something is not my business can too easily become a cop-out: “I’m sorry you’re drowning, but it’s not my business to toss you this life-preserver.”
My business is first and foremost my sobriety. I work first for that. Because anything I put in front of my sobriety I am going to lose. And then, my business is where the conviction of my heart will not allow me to stand passive while events that insult the personage or dignity of my friends and my fellows unfold.
This is why I make health care delivery my business. Not as an AA member (AA has no opinion on health care delivery), but because it is my livelihood, and I believe that providing sustainable means of access for all persons to health care is a crucial responsibility of societies. This is why I make marriage equality my business. I advocate for it, not as an AA member (AA has no opinion on marriage equality), but as a person in America who believes that all persons are entitled to access to the core institutions of civilization. And there are many other arenas of life that I make my business, because I believe I have the ability and capacity and obligation to participate productively.
And that matters. I need to be able to participate productively. Arguing with detractors about these things is not, in my view, productive. Hurling insults at people who disagree, or absorbing insults from them, does me no good. So, even on these topics, when faced with invective, I can decide that it’s not my business. Not because the topic is unimportant, but because it is not my business to engage with everyone who sees it differently.
Similarly, there are many important issues that have value that I am simply not moved by. Not enough to make them my business. And I know that many people become indignant when others don’t adopt their personal causes for their own. I do too. I can become myopic, and presume that because this is important to me, it must be important to everyone. But my decision not to engage in a politic is not a judgement on those for whom it is the most important issue.
So. What’s my business? What I choose it to be. I get to decide what’s important to me. I get to decide the level of my involvement. I am accountable for how I participate in politics and policy and social arenas and cultural shifts. I reserve the right to disengage from people with whom debate is not constructive. But it is not my business how anyone else chooses to behave. It’s not up to me to change anyone. I will only stand here and do what I believe is right. And I will apologize when I get it wrong.
I don’t claim to have answers. But I have more than just questions. I have the right to participate in discussion and debate. But I have a responsibility too. I have the responsibility to safeguard my serenity. To withdraw from invective. And so when discussion becomes argument, and argument becomes battle, I owe it to myself to step away. Because that way lies misery, for me. And I have come too far from misery to make new sorts for myself.